When cultural elements from the East and the West coast come together, you get a beautiful juxtaposition of two vastly different worlds. Inspired by the meeting of the ocean and the sky, Creative Director and Fashion Designer Carly Cushnie and Starling Jewelry founder Chelsey Bartrum brought the coasts together to create their recent capsule collaboration. The two started as just mutual friends with aligning values and aesthetics in the creative process, but this would turn into Bartrum’s first-ever jewelry collection in a few short months. The capsule at face value is beautiful, but the symbolism and underlying message it holds only add to the collection’s value.
“We hope you treasure these pieces, that they take the personal meaning you are looking for in your life and one day gets passed along to future generations,” says Bartrum. The personal jewelry collection holds five timeless pieces that are sustainably sourced from 100% post-consumer recycled 4k gold, aquamarine, and diamond stones. But these pieces are meant to be more than just an everyday accessory. Cushnie and Bartum want these pieces to feel like priceless heirlooms—something that can be passed down from generation to generation. The wearer of these pieces invokes both fluidity and gentleness but is also fiercely confident, moving to the beat of her drum—similar to the coasts. ESSENCE chatted more in-depth with the designers about the curation for this collection, the making of a family heirloom, and the characteristics of the muse for which this collection was made.
ESSENCE: What brought on this collaboration?
Cushnie: I have been a longtime fan of Starling’s. I’ve always loved their designs but also what they stand for: everything is made consciously, with recycled metals, and this collection stays true to that by using sustainably-sourced diamonds and aquamarine stones. This is my first time working on a jewelry collection, and I loved getting a behind-the-scenes peek at how the pieces are made and the differences in the design process from clothing.
Bartrum: Carly and I originally met through a mutual friend, and we began working on the collection — two earrings, two necklaces, and a ring — in January. It started with a sketch Carly made on this evil-eye premise that she had, now the Horizon Eye Pendant. The initial design direction really pushed me to do something bigger.
This collaboration was inspired by the mixing of eastern and western cultures. Can you elaborate on the similarities and differences that created the overlap for these pieces?
Cushnie: Some elements in the collection are drawn from Eastern cultures, such as the fan and evil eye, an ancient symbol meant to protect the wearer from evil spirits. This collection is a modern interpretation of both, alternating a soft and watery aquamarine with the blazing and sparkly diamond. Each piece is handcrafted in LA, where we wanted to create a representation of the edge of land and sea, a meeting of worlds with myself on the East Coast and Chelsey on the West Coast. There’s a beautiful juxtaposition of the soft and strong stones. Aquamarine is historically believed to guide and protect sailors in the open ocean, known as “water of the sea” in Latin. The name Diamond, on the other hand, stems from the word “unbreakable” in Greek. Diamonds have been revered for thousands of years and were once believed to be the splinters of stars that had fallen to Earth.
I know ethical and sustainable sourcing for this collection was a keynote within this collaboration. What practices did you put into place when sourcing for this capsule?
Bartrum: Similar to so many of Starling’s other products, these are handmade with SCS certified 100% post-consumer recycled 14k gold, aquamarine, and diamonds. Some of the diamonds are also post-consumer recycled.
These are pieces that could become family heirlooms. What makes a piece generational?
Bartrum: Jewelry is more than just a beautiful object. It holds a story, a narrative of connection and intimacy, that evolves along with its wearer. I created Starling to craft elegantly minimal, ethically-sourced pieces that can be paired, personalized, shared, and passed down. We have already taken enough from the Earth, which is why I aspire to be a fully sustainable brand and repurpose everything we can. Our vision is to craft jewelry that is both transformed by and reflective of the lives of those that wear it. We do so while offering the workmanship of couture jewelry with an ethical backbone. Our pieces will last forever and are meant to be part of your life story.
There’s repetition within the silhouette of the pendants (the fan/ triangular design). Can you speak on the inspiration for the design aesthetic for the collection?
Cushnie: Both Chelsey and I wanted to thoughtfully design each piece in the collection to represent modern interpretations of shapes like the evil eye and the fan that symbolize the things we want to manifest in our own lives, including protection, wisdom, femininity, authority, and happiness. We made these shapes and stones that evoke the contrasting yet complimentary soft and strong, East and West, and wisdom and authority.
The design and curation for this collection are very symbolic and thoughtful. What type of customer or woman was in mind when creating this piece?
Cushnie: This collection was created for the dreamer, the adventurer, and the opportunist. We see a woman that doesn’t fit into a box – someone who embodies the gentle, emotional, and fluid nature of the sea but also the fierceness and unpredictability of the sky. We wanted to envelop all of these elements to represent that beautiful duality.
Were there any challenges you faced when crafting this collection (design direction, capsule size, sourcing, etc.)
Bartrum: We had to get creative on how to make the aquamarine circle in the Horizon Eye Pendant. The original idea of Carly’s was a circle of solid aquamarines that we thought would be so beautiful with all tapered aquamarine baguettes. But I could not find any in the right size and quality. So to create the circle, I started playing around with what other stone cuts could work together to make a circle. Alternating trilliants and straight baguettes worked perfectly and brought a unique element to our designs. We also created the fan shape and used the single trilliant in the Ocean Drop earring.
Will there be any future collaboration with Carly and Starling Jewelry?
Bartrum: I would absolutely love to work with Carly again. There is always the possibility, and perhaps we will evolve and build on this current collection.
A curated capsule of rings, pendants, and earrings—shop the ethereal collection, ahead.